The following lessons can be used to demonstrate and illustrate various aspects of astronomy.
Lesson 1 - The Ever Expanding Universe
Purpose: This lesson will demonstrate how scientists know that the universe is expanding.
Materials: 5" or larger balloons (enough for each student), measuring tape, ruler, magic markers, observation sheet (Appendix A)
Procedure: Working in pairs, students will lay the deflated balloons flat and use the ruler and magic markers to make two dots that are 1cm apart. One student will blow up the balloon partially. The second student will use the tape measure and measure the distance between the two dots. This will be recorded on their observation sheet (See Appendix A). The first student will continue to blow the balloon up approximately half-way. The distance between the two dots will be measured and recorded. The first student will then blow the balloon up to its full capacity (without popping the balloon) and measure the distance between the two dots and record the findings. The students can switch places and the recorder will then blow up his/her balloon and the second student will record the results. The students will then analyze their results and discuss what happened and why. They will then record their conclusions from the discussion on the same sheet.
Lesson 2 - The Phases of the Moon
Purpose: This lesson will illustrate how the Moon goes through different phases. The activities can be done over the course of 2 or three days.
Materials: tennis balls, a globe, flashlights, a darkened room, chart paper, LCD projector, computer
Procedure: The lesson will begin with a word splash to introduce the students to new words that they may not know. The words are written on chart paper and each word is explained and pronounced so that the reading of the text will be understood. The words in the splash are:
waxing crescent - The Moon looks partly but less than one-half illuminated by the sun. The fraction that we see of the Moon's surface that is illuminated is increasing.
waxing gibbous - The Moon looks more than one-half but not fully illuminated by the sun. The fraction that we see of the Moon's surface that is illuminated is increasing.
waning gibbous - The Moon looks more than one-half but not fully illuminated by the sun. The fraction that we see of the Moon's surface that is illuminated is decreasing.
waning crescent - The Moon looks partly but less than one-half illuminated by the sun. The fraction that we see of the Moon's surface that is illuminated is decreasing.
orbit - to go around something in a circular or elliptical fashion
phase - a series of steps
To make it even simpler for the students to understand give the definition of each individual word. Such as: waxing is to get larger, waning is to get smaller, crescent means a sliver shape like a croissant or crescent roll, and gibbous means more than half.
The students should already be familiar with the basics of the Moon due to the reading of "If You Decide to Go to the Moon" by Faith McNulty (author) and Steven Kellogg (illustrator) from a previous lesson. This book does an excellent job of explaining what entails in planning and preparation if you decided to visit the Moon. Using the LCD projector that is connected to a computer that is connected to the internet, show a very short but informative animation that shows the Moon going through its different phases. It can be found at this website:
The website is DATA (Demonstrations and Animations for Teaching Astronomy) was developed by the Astronomy Department at the University of Illinois. This website gives a very interactive way of explaining and showing how the Moon orbits the Earth. It allows you to step through each portion of the orbit, slow down or speed up the orbit. It also has an animated larger moon that tells the percent of the Moon that is visible and what phase the Moon is in. After showing the demonstration to the class there are two activities that can be done.
1st Activity - Take the globe, the tennis ball, and the flashlight and have one student represent the Earth by holding the globe. Another student will represent the Moon by holding the tennis ball. Finally, the 3rd student will hold the flashlight representing the Sun. Holding the tennis ball slightly higher than the Earth, the student representing the Moon should be standing in a line with the other two students. The Earth should be in the middle, the student representing the Sun should be standing on the opposite side of the Moon shining the flashlight on the tennis ball. This represents a "Full Moon." The student holding the tennis ball should begin to walk around the Earth while keeping the same side of the tennis ball facing the Earth at all times. The side can be marked with an X to make it easier to keep the side facing the Earth. The student representing the Sun should continue to hold the flashlight in the original direction that the Moon started. When the Moon gets in front of the flashlight, this would represent the New Moon. The side of the Moon that is facing the Earth does not reflect any sunlight. The Moon can continue on its orbit until it is back where it started, representing a new full moon. The students can take turns being the Sun, Earth, and Moon. This activity can also be started as a new moon rather than a full moon. This should be done in a darkened room, the darker the better. There are other variations that can be done such as a solar eclipse when the Moon directly blocks the Sun and casts a shadow on the Earth or a lunar eclipse when the Earth blocks the Sun from the Moon and the Earth casts a shadow on the Moon. Students can then draw the phases as they observed them.
2nd Activity - Students can demonstrate the phases of the Moon in class or at home by taking a tennis ball, or similar sized ball, and holding it in front of a lamp with the shade removed. The lamp should be at one end of the room and the student should be at the other end. The student should hold the tennis ball up at arm's length in front of their face so that it is between their face and the lamp. This represents a new moon. They should then begin to move the ball slowly around their head from right to left. As the tennis ball "orbits" their head, they should be able to see it go through the same phases as the Moon. This works best in a very dark room with only one light source. Additional light causes multiple shadows which will make it harder to see the phases. Again, students can then draw the phases as they observed them.
Lesson 3 - The Phases of the Moon, Past and Future
Purpose: This lesson will allow students to identify phases of the Moon based on their birthdays.
Materials: computers connected to the internet, Moon sheet (Appendix B), gray or black crayons
Procedure: The students will be asked if they know what phase the Moon was in when they were born. They will then be asked if they know what phase the Moon will be in when they turn 30 years old. The students will understand that because the Moon orbits the Earth in a very predictable pattern, scientists can tell what phase the Moon was in in the past. They can also tell what phase the Moon will be in in the future. The students will be put into pairs and each given a sheet that has two pictures of the Moon. Their task is to access the U.S. Naval Observatory website which is located here:
This is a virtual reality site that takes actual images of the Moon and shows the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 to 2199. Students will have to input their birth date and see what phase the Moon was on that date. They will have to determine what the phase is. They will use the gray crayon to color in the Moon if necessary. The student will then have to calculate when they will be 30 years old and input that date. They will then follow the same procedure. The student will look at the phases of both Moons and write at the bottom how the phases were similar or different. A variation of this can be to do their mom or dad's birthday or a sibling. This is especially if the phases are the same or very similar for when they were born to when they are 30.